Friday, January 12, 2018

How To Get Away With Murder (By Holding The Poor Hostage)

Today I would like to briefly address one of the worst defenses of abortion that is given, and of Planned Parenthood more specifically. It is a common talking point by celebrities and lay-persons alike, but it is one with virtually no substance. In fact, it is really a barbaric statement when it is reasoned to it's logical implications.

                                                     (Photo Credit: Dank Pro-life Memes)

The claim goes like this: "Planned Parenthood should continue to get federal funding, since they provide a lot of services for poor Americans, especially women and minorities, that they wouldn't get elsewhere. Plus, abortion is only three percent of what they do!"

I had this stated to me repeatedly(and quite loudly) by a student during a pro-life outreach with Students for Life of America in the San Diego area late last year. She was outraged at the material on the display, which quoted the statistics found in the Planned Parenthood annual report.

Now, aside from the dispute over where lower-income Americans can go to get quality healthcare(It's a flat out lie that PP is the only organization in the nation that does provide these services, or will provide them in the future. A quick google search of local health care centers will prove that), the assertion also makes a fatal flaw: It "begs the question"; that is, it simply assumes that abortion is not the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

To show how this mistake happens, let's pretend for a moment that a local hospital purposely killed a certain percentage of it's patients in the pediatrics ward. If parents decide that their toddler is too much of a burden for them to take care of, they can have their toddler killed by the hospital staff, with no risk to the parents, whether medically, financially, or legally. To take this thought experiment a step further, suppose the hospital staff is caught dismembering the toddlers, and selling their body parts for profit to medical and research firms.

Would there be outrage? You'd better hope there would be.

Now imagine that after all of this outrage, the hospital's PR department states that since the facility provides free, life-saving healthcare for the poor members of the community, then the state health department would essentially be "killing the poor" by shutting down the hospital in order to end the killing of toddlers(Which seems to be the hospital's primary mission.)

In this case, the hospital PR department has essentially tried to get away with murder by holding the poor hostage. It's like a criminal telling a victim of his crime, "Don't go to the police, or else your loved ones will die." Should any reasonable person go on to defend such an action? Not if they were committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us.

It should be obvious that Planned Parenthood doesn't even care about the poor, no matter how emotional they are in the media. Especially when President Donald Trump offered to continue federal funding to them if they stopped their abortion "services", they refused.(This is not a post to defend President Trump; it is merely to make a point). It should be plainly obvious to anyone who values truth over easy to get sex: An organization that supposedly cares for the "poor and downtrodden" will only do so if it gives them leverage in the public square. No one committed to justice should support such a behavior.

In conclusion, the arguments given in favor of Planned Parenthood can only be morally justified if the unborn are not human. Because if the unborn are in fact human(And the evidence shows they are), then we have a literal case of an organization that is getting away with murder, by attempting to hold large numbers of the population hostage. It's amazing that anyone who is firmly committed to justice would be even remotely open to the idea that the poor and underserved could be used as a bargaining tool for political gain.

Monday, January 1, 2018

How The Christian Story Gives Life, Gender, and Sexuality Meaning

This week I was able to complete the newest book by Houston Baptist University professor Nancy Peacey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality.

In her typical style, professor Pearcey takes the worldviews of the most hotly debated topics in our society today(Life ethics and sexual ethics) and relegates them in a way that is both understandable, yet still accurately conveys the philosophies behind the issues. She then goes on to argue for why the Christian worldview makes the most sense of the issues themselves(such as the importance and meaning of human life) in a way that doesn't lose the sense of urgency behind many topics.

She takes on each topic in individual chapters, where she then breaks down the topic into a number of sub-sections, each of which is jam-packed with the insight that she carries with her everywhere she goes. Starting with the issue of abortion, she takes on the underlying philosophies of many of the key thinkers on the pro-choice side of the issue; mainly, the sort of "dualism" that drives many arguments in favor of abortion: The fetal being may in fact be human, but not in the sort of sense that we are obligated to care for and protect.

This argument has been articulated by a number of thinkers in a variety of ways(Thinkers like Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren, and others) have all argued that it is certain key functions that will give a human being value that is to be respected by society at large.

However, this view has a number of fatal flaws, the biggest and most apparent Nancy highlights in in her section on the issue: We now have no basis for fundamental human rights, and thus, human equality is a myth for the ash heap of history.

Nancy suggests an alternative that is worthy of consideration: The only grounds for affirming the most famous line from the Declaration of Independence, that "All Men Are Created Equal"(Nevermind if the founders didn't live up to this at all times. If the statement were to be rejected on that ground, we would have no standard to measure the founders life decisions up to) is best rooted in the idea of a Creator. Nancy argues that the Christian story provides not only the best explanation for human value, but for why we know humans are special kinds of beings with value in the first place.

She moves on to other topics in the later sections of the book, in particular, the implications of the sexual revolution in the West. Her chapter on the so-called "hookup culture" is particularly insightful, in that this cultural practice explains many of the biggest problems our society faces today.

Not only does professor Pearcey highlight the pain that "hooking up" for one night stands(having sex with someone that a person is not remotely interested in, other than for sexual interaction) brings to many young people, she goes on to argue for the Biblical worldview of sexual intimacy as having the most meaning when it comes to the question of sex. One segment of the chapter is a particularly insightful one: She gives an overview of the sexual ethic of the ancient Roman culture that the New Testament was written in, including the segments written regarding marriage and romance. In many circles today(Especially modern feminist circles), the Christian ethic as outlined in the New Testament by Paul and others is considered "anti-woman" and repressive.

However, as Nancy highlights, the Roman sexual ethic was not, in any way, "pro-woman", pro-child, or even pro-man. Surveying historical analysis of the time, it is noted that sexual interaction was a form of prestige, and men within society would have many sexual partners, regardless of the approval of their spouses. Women weren't even given a voice that was acceptable by the broader culture(There is a reason why many historians are astounded that the first witnesses in the Gospel accounts to the risen Jesus were women; Crafting a new religion to purposely woo the people would never have included such an embarrassing detail).

Enter in the Christian story. When Paul writes to the New Testament church that husbands should "Love their wives as Christ loves the church, and gave himself up for her"(Ephesians 5:25), he is saying something truly special: The Christian sexual ethic not only calls on men to show love to the women they are married to(Which Roman culture ignored the needs of women), but to love in a way that is self-sacrificing and other-centered. Far from a culture built on legalism, "chastity belts", and fear, the Christian sexual ethic gives the deepest purpose and meaning to the love expressed within a marriage between a husband and wife, by using marriage(and other non-romantic relationships as well) to give humankind a picture of the love behind all of reality: The love of the Creator for His creation.

In conclusion, Nancy's book couldn't be any more timely. With growing cultural tensions, and with subjects like abortion, assisted suicide, sex and homosexuality, and gender identity coming directly into the living rooms of America, there are at least three groups of people who would most benefit from her book:

1. Parents: Many Christian parents are unsure of how to instruct their children in the matters addressed in the book. With Queer Feminist theory(and the worldviews behind it) and explicit sexual material making their way into even elementary age schools, many parents are at a loss of how to give their kids a way to think about the subjects being taught. While this book is most assuredly not appropriate for younger audiences, it can help parents start teaching their children how the Christian worldview makes the most sense of our world, and the issues surrounding us.

2. Christian college students: Unfortunately, many Christian students are woefully unprepared for the constant barrage of worldviews that are thrown at them as soon as they step onto a college campus. From freshman orientation onward, worldviews such as postmodernism, Marxism, secular humanism, and sexual libertarianism are being practically(and, at some schools, even literally) shouted on street corners and from rooftops. When I first attended my school, CSU San Marcos, during the transfer student orientation, several of the women's studies professors encouraged the students to chant "Consent is Hot; Assault is Not" multiple times, and jokingly stated that even having "two or more" sex partners in bed at once was acceptable, as long as everyone agreed to be involved. These kinds of statements can make the task of not only living out one's Christian faith on campus seem daunting, but having a thriving relationship with Christ that is a public witness can seem almost impossible. I would recommend, not only read this book before the school semester starts, but master it. Detailed margin notes, highlights, and unreadable pages from underlining are a must.

3. Pro-life advocates: A popular slogan of the United States Army is to "Train how you'll fight", and pro-life work is no exception. Unfortunately, I have noticed that many pro-life advocates can end up on the "front lines" under-equipped for the worldviews they will encounter when on the streets. This book will change that. Pro-life advocates will be equipped to understand not only the viewpoints of those they will meet who are defending an abortion-choice viewpoint, but also will be ready to respond with grace, truth, and compassion when needed most.

Love Thy Body hits bookstore shelves tomorrow nationwide, and I would argue, this is the most important book for Christians to pick up in the New Year of 2018.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cheetah Cubs, Human Development, and Moral Status

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park(Where I currently work) had a new member added to the family recently: A baby cheetah. While she is small, the animal care staff at the Park have jokingly stated that she is pretty much already in charge of the facility that she is currently living in.

(source: ZOONOOZ)

When I saw her the other day, a thought had occurred to me, regarding the issue of current potential and fundamental status: Though our capacity, physical characteristics, or our inherent potentials may change, we do in fact remain the same kind of being over time(ie "the substance view of personhood"). Given that many arguments in favor of abortion attribute a potential for personhood(or, more loosely, humanity itself), I think this little cub can help us think through how to assess the moral status of a being before birth, as well as afterwards.

For example, given that the cheetah cub in question has not fully developed yet, she is currently unable to do what cheetahs are most famous for: Running at 60-70mph while engaged in the pursuit of prey. I have seen these "Cheetah Runs", and they are over in just a few seconds. Yes, it's true, this is something that is unique to a certain kind of being: cheetah beings. However, can a cheetah not possess this ability, and still be understood as a cheetah?

Chris Kaczor gives a good illustration of this concept in his book The Ethics of Abortion in which he points out that a cat that is unable to purr is still a cat, though that cat has not completely lived up to his full potential as a member of a particular species. However, that being in question is still a cat, even though "felineness" is currently unable to be fully realized at this moment.

Back to our cheetah cub, while she may not be able to run at extremely fast speeds, she has the potential to do that one day, which is rooted to the kind of thing she is, not some characteristic that may be accidentally gained or lost(such as the number of hair follicles in her fur coat). Even if she never developed the ability to run, she is still the same kind of being, but is merely lacking the current capacity to live up to her full potential. To(loosely) paraphrase Dr. Frank Beckwith, she isn't a potential cheetah, she is a cheetah with potential. It would be absurd to say that she is merely a mammal, and won't become an actual cheetah until she is able to run.

How does this relate to the debate over abortion? One of the most popular arguments heard on the street level, and articulated more formally within the academy, is that the early embryonic being or fetal being is merely a "potential" human being or person. The reasons for thinking that the being in question is merely a potential human can vary from cognitive functioning, to appearance, to the presence of bodily functions. And yet, for all these qualities that must be achieved in order to gain status as a human being, they miss an important point: Human beings the only kinds of being that can develop these attributes, and do so merely with time. If someone hands me a license to operate a type of vehicle, I have attained the status of being licensed; however, no one had to hand me a pair of eyes with which to proofread this post: I attained that attribute(reading and comprehension) over time based on the kind of being that I am, a human being. One has to be a human being first in order to develop, from within, the characteristics that human beings inherently possess.

And even if I lost many of those attributes, I am still human, though I would be tragically lacking in the things I need to realize my humanity fully. It could also be the case that a human being currently lacks the ability to realize or achieve every capacity they hold, due to age. That doesn't mean they are of a different order of things separate from human beings; it means they simply belong to the category of younger human beings. And if the capabilities that are realized due to age are not what determines the kind of being one is, it seems then that this extends all the way to when one began to exist, which is obviously in the time before birth(and according to embryology, at the moment of conception, did one gain all the capacities that had yet to be realized and matured)

It seems odd to say that our current, temporary lack of a capability is what defines whether or not we are entitled to the most basic right anyone could have: the right to exist, and to be able to recognize those full potentials that we may have. Indeed, it seems even more tragic to permanently and violently deprive someone of the goods of life whenever it suits our preferences.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide

Just yesterday I was able to finish this short book by pro-life activist and apologists Jonathon Van Maren and Blaise Alleyne. For those who are not familiar with the two, they are directors at the well known Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and Jonathon is the host of the radio-show/podcast The Bridgehead, which hosts activists, intellectuals, and authors on a variety of subjects in the ongoing "culture wars" in the modern day West. Subjects covered include sexual ethics, pornography, abortion, human trafficking, pro-life history, religious liberty, and other hot topics.

The book A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide is a great expansion of the role that The Bridgehead plays in training pro-life advocates to successfully and persuasively communicate their views in the public square. The book is short(about 90 pages) and can be read through in a single sitting. In the introduction, the authors point out that many people who hold pro-life views on the issue of assisted suicide have been left challenged and frustrated when it comes to communicating a pro-life ethic on the issue, which the books hopes to alleviate. Personally, I have found myself in this category, without much understanding of assisted suicide and what the underlying philosophies and arguments are. With the culture gradually becoming more accepting of the practice, Christians and pro-life advocates need to be able to graciously engage on the topic, while acknowledging common ground with those who disagree.

This short work accomplishes just that. Van Maren and Alleyne do a good job of framing the issue of assisted suicide, by pointing out early on that the key issues aren't choice, autonomy, or dignity, but is instead the issue of suicide itself. They break down the views on the issue into three areas: The Split Position, the Total Choice Position, and the Pro-life Position.

Starting with the Split Position, they point out that many of those who hold that assisted suicide is a morally acceptable and even preferable response to human suffering will in fact support limits on the ability to choose to commit suicide. They come up with a handy tactic to highlight this hesitation, called "Trotting out the teenager", an expansion of the trotting out the toddler tactic used in the abortion debate. By pointing out that many people would NOT encourage a teenager who was suffering depression to engage in suicide, the issue then isn't choice or autonomy, but instead whether or not there are people we should protect and offer help to, instead of letting them engage in self-harm.

This leads to a "reduction ad absurdum" by the authors, who point out that if we would stop one person(say, a teenager) from choosing suicide, but not someone else, then we are engaging in a form of arbitrary discrimination, by assuming that some lives have more value, and are therefore more worthy of our care and attention. When this is pointed out, many begin to see the radical implications of a "right to suicide" ethic. Personally, I had never considered this angle before, and it was a great way to get myself thinking on the issue.

The second view, "Total Choice", is a bit more radical, in that it assumes that any person, at any time, may choose suicide for any reason whatsoever. While relatively few hold this view, some do, and the authors give a way to respond to this. One way is to, again, take the view to it's logical conclusion, and show that many will try to prevent suicide in one group pf people(say, a broken-hearted teenager) but will allow or encourage suicide in another group(the terminally ill). They highlight that many, even Peter Singer, who has advocated for "involuntary suicide" will make sacrifices to aid an ailing family member or loved one.

Before presenting the pro-life ethic as the preferred ethic on the issue, the book gives a brief but shocking look at the incidents and escalation of the acceptance of suicide in countries that have endorsed the practice. From horrifying stories out of Europe, to the gradual acceptance by the elderly of thinking they have a "duty" to their children to kill themselves, so as to prevent future burdens, Jonathon and Blaise highlight the dangers of a cultural acceptance of assisted suicide, or suicide in general.

Lastly, the authors present the pro-life ethic on suicide, in that suicide should not be endorsed or presented as a valid option, but instead both compassion and loving care are the obligations we owe to the suffering. The authors highlight several medical institutions to aid those who are suffering, such as palliative care, dignity therapy, and other methods of healing from suffering.

Overall, the book is a handy resource for anyone who wants an introduction to the issue of suicide and assisted suicide, and in learning how to communicate their views on the issue. I'd say the book can easily be considered the "Case for Life" of the anti-suicide pro-life movement, and should be recommended reading for pro-life ethics courses. The emphasis on tactics and common ground is especially important; with methods, stories, and thought-provoking scenarios taught through the book.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Twitter User's Dishonest Recap of My Debate [Clinton Wilcox]

A few weeks ago, I engaged in a debate with Matt Dillahunty at the Bible and Beer Consortium in Dallas. Our debate resolution was "should we have a right to die?" (I'm not a fan of that resolution; I prefer resolutions to be in the form of a statement.) It was my first live debate, although Matt and I had debated previously on the topic of abortion on a friend's podcast.

The audience I had to present for was definitely hostile to my point of view. I even had someone heckling me during the cross-examination portion (which Matt apologized for during the break) and during the Q&A. Unfortunately this is one topic that's very emotionally charged and it's difficult to get people to think rationally about it. I did have two people come up to me after the debate and thank me for presenting, telling me that it was the first time they'd ever heard a reasonable case for my position. A woman also came up to me afterward and asked for my contact information because she'd like to have me out to present at some point. So I do know that at least some people were positively impacted by my arguments.

But then there's Twitter user Maurice Reimann, who tweeted out the following:
Now, I'm not delusional. I know that not everyone is going to be convinced by my arguments. But the Twitter user above was dishonestly distorting the arguments that were presented. You can watch the debate at the link he provides, but I just want to quickly go over these statements in his tweet and show how dishonest they are. There's also no doubt I could have done much better during the cross-examination portion. I have improvement to make, that's for sure. However, Reimann is completely misconstruing the arguments that were presented.

This is a clear case of poisoning the well. Reimann is trying to present Matt's case as good as he can and my case as ridiculously as he can. If you don't even understand the arguments being presented, though, then you can't say you were not convinced by them.

#1: Matt "talks explicitly about end of life only" and Clinton "equates with abortion, suicidal teenagers, vegetative state, euthanasia"

Matt didn't talk explicitly about end of life only. It would be more accurate to say he talked about end of life barely. As I showed with my arguments, very few people actually end their lives because of severe pain or fear of severe pain. They end their lives because they want to control the timing and method of their own death, and dying with dignity. But Matt refused to talk about any other end of life cases. It was like we were debating abortion and he was only focusing on rape cases and refused to talk about other cases. As I showed, the case Matt wanted to focus on were the extreme minority of cases. He refused to talk about any others.

Now, I didn't equate it with abortion. I did mention a possible abortion case but the reasoning behind it was one of euthanasia -- will you kill the child because of a debilitating illness or allow the child to live? And speaking of that, how can Reimann call this "equating with euthanasia" when euthanasia is literally about end of life? The act of euthanasia is a doctor killing a patient with a debilitating illness. Dillahunty and Reimann may not be familiar with the literature on end of life issues, but I am. And suicidal teenagers and people in persistent vegetative states are very relevant when it comes to the end of life discussion. If there is such a thing as a right to die, that means that everyone has it, and we have no right to tell a distraught teenager that he can't end his own life. People in persistent vegetative states have lost their higher brain function and may never regain it (though some have), so are we permitted to end their lives? These are all relevant questions to the end of life discussion. Matt's incessant focusing on the hard case of people at the end of life in extreme and unrelievable pain wasn't getting at the heart of the issue, to say nothing of the fact that I showed the position I was defending does not necessitate I think it is always wrong to take a human life. But my view is nuanced, whereas Matt's was not, and he tried to sidestep the questions about whether or not we should permit suicidal teenagers to end their lives (and other questions, as well).

#2: Matt "requires heavy regulation and checks" and Clinton "invents arbitrary 'natural right' to life but not to death."

First, Matt may have required heavy regulation and checks, but he was being inconsistent in his views by requiring those. He also refused to take a position on whether or not anyone else, such as a suicidal teenager, had a right to die.

Second, I did not invent an arbitrary natural right to life, nor was I arbitrary in stating we don't have a right to death. A right to life is at the very heart of our judicial system. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our Creator with natural rights, and among these is the right to life. The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law. What generates a presumption against killing you is that you have a right to life.

My view of natural rights was also not arbitrary; in fact, it is so commonsensical that many people assume this, even when trying to argue the opposite. Consider when I tried to push back with a thought experiment about our government killing homeless people, who do not contribute to society, away from the eyes of the public. The audience kind of turned on me because it was so hostile (it should have been obvious to any charitable person listening I was not denigrating homeless people but was responding to Matt's view about their lack of rights). Matt responded that they're valuable, but that's my view, not his. My view is that people are intrinsically valuable and so we ought to respect their rights. Matt was borrowing from my view of rights in order to avoid a barbaric conclusion from his own. Unfortunately because the crowd was turning on me and Matt was unfairly criticizing my use of thought experiments, in the heat of the moment I chose to abandon that line of reasoning.

I will add that a friend who had attended my debate suggested I may have made a mistake by trying to argue natural rights at the debate, and he may have been right for a couple of reasons. First, there was not very clear communication about the format of the debate. I thought we only had 15 minutes for opening speeches, when in fact we were given a half hour (Matt was gracious about this and was trying to be conscious about not taking too much more time than I took for my opening speech). If I had prepared for a half-hour presentation, I could have said more about the concept of rights. But at the end of the cross-examination, I ended up having to think about how to connect the dots between having a natural need translating into having a natural right, but we ran out of time before I formulated my thoughts. That was my fault for not having a better answer at the ready in case Matt challenged me on that.

Finally, my view of a "right to death" naturally follows from my position. The government cannot grant a right that violates the natural right of an individual, which means the government cannot grant a right to death because that's a violation of a person's right to life. You may not be convinced by the language of natural rights, but to call them arbitrary is just absurd.

#3: Matt was not arguing "this is a blanket right to die, go ahead" and Clinton made "slippery-slope arguments left and right"

It's true that Matt stated he wasn't arguing for a blanket right to die, but that was part of the problem with his view. He focused on one rare set of people at the end of life, when the debate resolution was regarding a right to die, in general. Matt didn't offer a nuanced view, so it is not clear why his position wouldn't entail a blanket right to die. Simply saying that doesn't make it so.

Additionally, I did not make slippery-slope arguments left and right. I made one slippery-slope argument, and I had to qualify it at the beginning because Matt had talked about fallacious slippery-slope arguments in his opening speech. I qualified my slippery-slope argument by saying that like most fallacies, this fallacy is not always a fallacy. A slippery-slope is not a fallacy if there is warrant for it, and I showed from other countries, such as Belgium and Denmark, that there is warrant for my slippery-slope argument. But again, making one slippery-slope argument is not making them "left and right."

#4: Matt argued "death is an unavoidable consequence of life; you can't avoid it" and Clinton argued "suffering builds character."

It's true that death is an unavoidable consequence of life, but it doesn't follow that we then have a right to hasten it. And again, he never answered the question of why we all don't have a right to hasten it if people who are suffering at the end of their life do.

This is the only argument of mine that Reimann managed to get right (and only half-right). I also added that suffering makes us empathetic to the suffering of others. Of course, these arguments don't necessarily apply to someone who is in extreme and uneasable suffering at the end of life, but again I conceded that my position does not entail that it is necessarily wrong to end these peoples' lives as an act of mercy. But I am familiar with the literature on end of life issues, and I was addressing a right to die in general, whereas Matt was constantly harping on one rare, extreme case.

To reiterate, I know that not everyone will be convinced by my arguments. But I think I was at least clear enough to make my arguments understandable by anyone sufficiently open-minded and willing to treat people charitably.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book Review: Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice by Kira Shlesinger [Clinton Wilcox]

Kira Shlesinger's book is, unfortunately, the latest in a long line of books that don't add anything to the discussion on abortion, don't *really* interact with the pro-life position, and makes an argument that proves too much. If Shlesinger's argument succeeds, then we would have to allow a mother to kill her child of any age, not just while they're still in the womb. Her argument is just a rehash of the feminist argument you can find from other feminist authors, like Katha Pollitt. Even though she mentions reconciling her faith on the front cover, she concedes that arguing from Scripture for abortion is a very weak argument.

Let's first talk about a couple of good points. She talks about wanting to find common ground with pro-life people. This is great, since most abortion-choice writers don't seem very inclined to do that. This approach isn't novel -- it is an approach taken by many pro-life people, but it is a novel approach to see from an abortion-choice advocate who is not a philosopher, although some of the things she says in her book makes me think this is mere lip service and she's not being sincere.

Additionally, she is willing to concede the weakness of some abortion-choice arguments, such as arguments that try to appeal to prooftexts from Scripture.

However, despite the fact she can see the weakness in Biblical arguments, she doesn't see the weakness in the argument that pro-life people aren't *really* pro-life, they're just "pro-birth", only interested in birthing children or controlling womens' bodies: they are pro-capital punishment and they oppose government-funded healthcare and access to contraception. This is one of those things that leads me to believe she's not sincere about wanting to find common ground. For one thing, she doesn't understand the distinction between what pro-life people view as killing an innocent human child and putting to death a convicted murderer after being given due process. Second, many pro-life people (especially Libertarians) oppose government-funded healthcare and "access to contraception" (which usually just means "making the taxpayer pay for it") is that they oppose the government stealing money from taxpayers and giving it to someone who doesn't have a natural claim on it. For someone who is an Episcopal preacher and I would imagine takes the Ten Commandments seriously, I would wonder why she doesn't understand why some pro-life people think stealing is wrong, even if it's from the government.

On page 37, she also makes the tired argument that making abortion illegal won't stop them from happening. This is another argument in which she doesn't seem to be able to recognize the weakness of it -- making rape, theft, and murder illegal hasn't stopped them, either. But someone who commits those acts deserves to be punished for them.

Shlesinger's main argument for abortion can be found on pages eight and nine: we do not live in an ideal world, where men and women share equal responsibility for caring for a child, and there are diseases like the Zika virus, so women need contraception, including access to safe abortions (yes, she seems to believe abortion is a form of contraception). This is just the standard feminist argument, that regardless of whether or not the unborn are alive or persons, women need abortion because the world has "stacked the deck" against them. Unfortunately she doesn't seem to realize the weakness of this argument is that it justifies a woman taking the life of any child at any age.

Shlesinger takes two chapters to talk about the history of abortion, and while her history is more or less accurate, she does leave out some things which are detrimental to her case. For example, she tries to argue that the real reason abortion was made illegal in the United States (before quickening, in which it was already illegal) is because of reasons like doctors not wanting the competition from doctors without medical training who were doing abortions, so they formed the AMA. Requiring doctors to have a medical license to practice put these less educated practitioners out of business and they took a strict anti-abortion stance. Of course, this argument doesn't make sense to me, because why wouldn't these doctors continue to do abortions discretely, even while putting these other practitioners out of business? After all, according to Mary Calderone, 90% of illegal abortions prior to 1973 were still done by doctors in good standing in their communities. But Shlesinger leaves out the real reason abortion was made illegal before quickening -- in the 1800s, the science of embryology had discovered that life begins at fertilization. So abortion was made illegal before the point of quickening once when life began was discovered.

She also states, on p. 27, that abortion was illegal for 100 years, from 1873 Comstock Act to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but the reality is that abortion was always illegal in the United States, even prior to 1873, past the point of quickening, because medical science had not yet made the discovery of when life begins. You can read more about refuting some myths about the history of abortion in Joseph Dellapenna's fine book, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History.

She also consistently conflates the issues of life and personhood. Life can be a philosophical concept, but it is also a biological one -- the unborn are biologically alive from fertilization. She argues that there is no consistent position on when personhood begins, as if that means there is no wrong answer.

Shlesinger, also, appears to be quite ignorant of the literature on abortion. She doesn't have a discussion on personhood, only asserting that there is no consensus on it. And the one philosopher she does quote -- Joel Feinberg -- it is not a direct quote, but a quote of Katha Pollitt quoting Joel Feinberg. She does not interact with any of the pro-life thinkers' arguments for the personhood of the unborn (e.g. Frank Beckwith, Christopher Kaczor, Alex Pruss, or Russell DiSilvestro). She also doesn't seem to know what arguments abortion-choice philosophers make for their position. She also quotes another philosopher -- Sydney Callahan -- regarding a statement on feminism, but she refers to Callahan as "him" (Sydney Callahan is a woman, a pro-life feminist, and her husband, Daniel, is an abortion-choice philosopher).

So what pro-life arguments does Shlesinger interact with? Not the argument that abortion is wrong because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. Not the argument that the unborn are persons because they are individual substances of a rational nature. Not even the Biblical argument that abortion is wrong because the unborn are human beings, and God has commanded us not to murder Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17), that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:16-19), and that child sacrifice had never even entered into God's mind to command (Jeremiah 19:5). These are the arguments that she does interact with:

-Ultrasound technology has made personhood arguments more persuasive to people. While this is true, this is certainly not the argument pro-life people make for why the unborn are persons. Personhood depends on what something is, not what it looks like.

-Psalm 139; while Shlesinger is right to criticize the use of this passage, what she fails to take into consideration is that the psalmist considers himself to have been himself while in the womb. In other words, this inspired psalmist taught a continuity of identity from the womb.

-Jeremiah 1:4-5; she is also right to criticize the use of these verses. After all, taken literally it would seem that God was saying we existed prior to our conception, which is not an orthodox Christian view. It would seem that the point of these verses is not to teach that unborn children are alive so much as to show God's foreknowledge.

-Amos 1:13; now we're getting a bit more murky. This verse says "Thus says the Lord, for three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory." Shlesinger asserts that we need to look at the context, and the context is that God is proclaiming judgement and destruction of Israel's neighbors for their wickedness and brutality. The punishment is for war crimes, not for surgical abortions chosen by the woman and performed by a licensed professional. I haven't really looked into this, so I'll take her word for it. As I mentioned above, there are better verses to use, ones that Shlesinger doesn't respond to.

-Third trimester John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb at the approach of Mary with first trimester Jesus in her womb. Shlesinger's response here is that John the Baptist was past the point of quickening, and this was a special one, as the one chosen to herald the arrival of Christ, so using it to support fetal personhood is a stretch. At least for this passage, Shlesinger's response is less than persuasive.

That should suffice. So to quickly recap, this is a book to skip. Not only is her argument just a rehash of the feminist argument and she doesn't add anything new to the discussion, but she also doesn't have knowledge of the literature on abortion. There are better books out there.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Kids Aren't Alright: Should We Set a Limit on Having Kids? [Clinton Wilcox]

Anne Green and Carter Dillard, executive director and president, respectively, of an organization that bills themselves as “pro-family,” called Having Kids, wrote an open letter to Prince William and Duchess Kate on July 25th after Kate joked about having another kid. Apparently this didn’t sit well with this organization, whose mission statement is to “promote a sustainable and child-centered family planning model.” By that they mean limiting yourself to only having a small number of kids in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint and to give them a fairer start in life. Large families, they reason, are one of the leading factors in global warming, so to combat global warming, we should limit our family sizes to two children.

I’m not going to respond to everything this organization believes. They do have a white paper on their website which I may read and analyze at some point, but for now I’m only going to respond to their statements in this open letter. They also don’t mention abortion on their website, so it’s not clear what they think about abortion or whether or not abortion fits into their “family planning” model, as it does the “family planning” model of Planned Parenthood.

First, I’ll just point out how bold it is to tell anyone how many kids you think they ought to be having, especially the Royal Family. But even just a cursory reading through this letter shows that not only are their arguments faulty, they’re not supported very well.

Second, I do want to point out that having a child-centered family planning model is admirable, as so many people don’t take kids into consideration when having sex or getting married, so as long as their model doesn’t involve abortion, then I think it’s a good thing to consider the kids you will potentially have in your marriage.

But therein lies one of the problems: how many kids should each family have? It seems like each couple is different, depending on their circumstances. So while one couple might only be able to have one or two kids, some could have eight, nine, or even more and be able to give all the kids the individual attention they need. I know people who have a lot of kids and their children are not suffering in any way.

Another pretty glaring problem is, how do you plan for these families? Christians believe that we are called to “be fruitful and multiply,” which was the first commandment given to the first humans in the book of Genesis. So having a small family is not part of the Christian model, and the fact that any time you have sex it can result in pregnancy seems to indicate that small families were never intended for us. It’s also true that pregnancy can take a long time because certain factors have to obtain before pregnancy can occur, which may also be nature’s way of making sure we don’t get too overrun with people. But if, for example, Catholic moral philosophers are right and using contraception is immoral, then limiting your family through contraceptive means would also be immoral. Again, I’m not sure if they’ve addressed these questions elsewhere such as in their white paper, but in the course of this open letter they don’t address many of the potential responses to their views which they should anticipate due to how controversial their views will be to the majority of people who read their letter.

They argue that large families are not sustainable and limiting our family sizes has the most potential for mitigating climate change and its effects. They claim that multiple studies have shown this, except that they link to an article on The Guardian which talks about one study that showed that having one fewer child will help lower your carbon emissions. Of course, this study also says that the next best things you can do are sell your car, avoid long flights, and eat a vegetarian diet. So why isn’t Having Kids advocating for people to stop driving and ride bikes, to stop flying long distances, and to go vegetarian? Why is it just reducing family sizes that they are interested in pushing to fight carbon emissions, considering that what they’re asking of people actually goes against human nature and considering the fact that many countries are actually below their replacement rate? So clearly their claim has not been adequately supported.

One objection they did anticipate is that considering this is the Royal Family they’re talking about, their children will, of course, receive love, care, and attention from their parents. But this isn’t true of all children, so William and Kate should keep their family size low as an example to the rest of us. Of course, this ignores the fact that you don’t have to be “Royal Family” rich in order to give a large family your attention, love, and resources. It seems, at the very least, that the “ideal number” of children would be relative to the financial situation of their parents. Instead, Having Kids would rather you keep your family small and give your resources to other families who need them to provide a fair start for their kids. But this, now, seems inconsistent -- they should be saying that if you can’t afford to have any kids, you shouldn’t be having any kids. They seem to believe that even if you can afford it, you shouldn’t have a large number of kids. But now they’re saying even if you can’t afford it, you should still be able to have kids. This is inconsistent reasoning.

Taking kids into consideration when planning a family is a good thing. Telling people they should limit the number of kids they have when there are other alternatives to achieve your desired result is not.